Artist: Desolate Shrine
Album: The Heart of the Netherworld
Label: Dark Descent Records
The latest release from Finland’s Desolate Shrine, titled The Heart of the Netherworld, is certainly an ambitious effort. Clocking in at over an hour, …Netherworld’s seven songs attempt to expand upon what one would expect from death metal through a heavy emphasis on atmosphere. More specifically, Desolate Shrine crafts a soundscape that reflects the band’s general negativity towards the human species and its obsession with the occult. What we have here isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows – but what self-respecting metal enthusiast doesn’t appreciate a well-executed exploration of the dark side? Unfortunately, while the record occasionally reaches points where its thick atmosphere enhances the sense of dread, much of the time all it produces is tedium.
The album throttles from the intro track “For the Devil and His Angels” into “Black Fires of God” with a torrent of vicious riffs. This is …Netherworld at its best: straight forward, evil death metal with an atmospheric edge. However, too much of one ingredient will very often lead to an imbalance. …Netherworld inflicts boredom at multiple instances because of the over-reliance on atmospheric elements. The album’s lengthiest song, “At Dawn We Anew”, begins with a tone-establishing piano piece, creating tension and anticipation. Despite a strong introduction, the track’s momentum comes to a screeching halt. This long, mostly riffless portion lasts for much longer than necessary, before its swept away by the next part of the song. The band’s intentions to diversify their music could have accomplished a very immersive piece, however their attempts were oversimplified, and ended up creating a much more underwhelming, and rather boring piece instead.
Although Desolate Shrine doesn’t fully deliver with its songwriting, the production on …Netherworld is distant, cavernous, and chaotic. The guitars are in the forefront, almost burying the rhythm section. Everything sounds remote, vocals in particular. What holds the record together at times is the fact that the sound of the album allows some of the more experimental aspects of this album to work.
I have to admire Desolate Shrine for what they were trying to do – attempting to stray from death metal norm while maintaining what makes it death metal in the first place. Maybe I’m too fond of experimenting with ambient passages for my own good, but when incorporated well, it can add a lot to the music. The Heart of the Netherworld is by no means a bad release – at a number of moments I found myself entranced with its sonic torment. The production suits the music, and it would be a crime not to mention the spectacular album art. However, that doesn’t change the fact that a lack of interesting riffs and dragging ambient passages hold the album back from being a force to be reckoned with.